The Vindication
of Grant Duff

(notes by Philip Holberton, drawing on the researches of Andrew Rutherford and Thomas Pinney)


Published in the Civil and Military Gazette, 25 October 1886, with the heading:

‘So are they all, all honourable men—See today’s telegram.’

The poem is unsigned, but it refers to the ‘Telegraphic Intelligence’ in the same issue. This was the news service sent to newspapers by telegraph, and would only have been seen before publication by the editorial staff – Kipling and his Editor, E. Kay Robinson.

It was not collected by Kipling, but is to be found in Rutherford (p. 342) and Pinney (p. 1827).

The poem

The poem mocks the retiring Governor of Madras, his self congratulatory review of his time in office, his tendency to see criticism as unfair and spiteful, his relaxed attitude to lapses by his officials. It must have been written with the active encouragement of Kay Robinson, to help raise the profile of the CMG, and it cannot have failed to damage the wider reputation of Sir Mountstewart Grant Duff, since newspapers around the world fed – as they feed today – on each other’s stories.


The ‘Telegraphic Intelligence’ in the same issue includes an item from Madras, on the review of his own administration presented in a Minute, with some self-satisfaction, by Sir Mountstuart Elphinstone Grant Duff at the conclusion of his term as Governor. It comments on the Madras Scandals (See “A Logical Extension” and “At the Bar”):

As to the landholdings of Madras civilians [in this context, members of the Madras Civil Service] he admits that, until the time of his predecessor, the old rules had evidently slipped too much out of sight. He proceeds:—

‘No doubt a vast amount of spiteful nonsense has been talked and written about the sins in the matter of land of that very honourable body of men, the Madras Civil Service, but I am sure all its members will see that to transgress ever so little the rules about landholding is a sad mistake, and one which enables its enemies to heap upon it all manner of false accusations.’ [The “Rules” forbade members to hold land anywhere in India.]

A lawyer and Liberal politician by background, Grant Duff was a controversial figure, and the CMG and Pioneer were not the only newspapers to criticise him. The Hindu, another English language paper, accused him of indulging in vindictive and vengeful behaviour, and wrote:

Oh! Lucifer! How art thou fallen? Oh! Mr Grant-Duff, how you stand like an extinct volcano in the midst of the ruins of your abortive reputation as an administrator! Erudite you may be, but a statesman you are not. [Wikipedia]

There was also an unsigned poem, “A Soliloquy from the South”, a ‘meditation by Grant Duff to his soul’, published in the Pioneer and Pioneer Mail on December 8th 1886, which figures in ORG pp. 5140-42. This is not mentioned by Rutherford, and Thomas Pinney confirms that there is no evidence that it was by Kipling.

Notes on the text

[The heading] ‘So are they all, all honourable men’ from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar Act III. Scene 2, in which Mark Anthony is – in effect – denouncing the murderers of Ceasar by ironically calling them ‘honourable men’, a quotation which would have been very familiar to the readers of the CMG.

Decalogue the Ten Commandments handed down by God to Moses, as recounted in the Old Testament (Exodus 20, 1-17).

keep your trading out of court The “Rules” for the Indian Civil Service also banned members from engaging in trade.

land-jobs Illegal procurement of land by officials.

The sinful Pioneer The Pioneer was the senior sister paper to the Civil and Military Gazette. It ran a series of articles attacking the “Madras Scandals” all through the summer of 1886. Kipling was transferred to work for it full-time in November 1887.

the wily zemindar A zemindar is a landlord. This is an allusion to the evidence presented by a landlord involved in one of the contentious landholding cases.

C.S.I. Companion of the Order of the Star of India, a very high and sought-after decoration. See “A Legend of the Foreign Office” in which the ruler of a backward Native State begins to modernise, but reverts to his old ways when his efforts only earn him the lower C.I.E. (Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire) instead of the C.S.I. for which he ‘lusted’.


©Philip Holberton 2020 All rights reserved